Sunday, October 08, 2006

The War Against Profiteering

OK, I know this is supposed to be the “humorous drunken wine guy column,” and I really, really want to be funny (yeah, I know, it’s some sort of weird unresolved childhood attention-getting thing), but the restaurants in Chico are preventing me from being funny. I just seem to keep having bad wine experiences in Chico restaurants. So it’s their fault I’m not funny, not mine.

You see, last week I visited one of Chico's finer dining establishments (which will remain nameless mostly because the Beat might want them to advertise). I was hungry for a juicy steak and a fine bottle of wine to wash it down with. Unfortunately, this fine restaurant's wine list was something less than fine. Half of the wines on the list were ones I saw in Costco the day before and the other half were "me too" California cult wines (remember: “cult” = insanely expensive) like Silver Oak, Caymus, Opus One, etc. These aren't necessarily bad wines, but they aren't inspired choices either.

But my eyes absolutely sprang from their sockets when I saw the astronomical prices they wanted for these wines. “Whoa!” I thought, “there’s some serious profiteering happening here!” Here's just a few examples:

Simi Alexander Valley Cab: $37 (Costco: $16.99)
BV Tapestry: $72 (Costco: $34.99)
BV George de Latour: $120 (Costco: $65.99)
Opus One: $225 (most places: about $135)

We're talking a 100% markup here! And for what exactly? Well?

These prices are simply wrong. I can go to Costco myself and spend half what they are charging for a bottle. Do they think nobody shops at Costco and won’t notice?

Any decent restaurant will allow you to bring a bottle of wine with you and will charge you a reasonable “corkage” fee to open the bottle (anything up to about $12 is considered “reasonable” these days). This restaurant’s corkage fee was $12. If I brought a bottle of the BV Tapestry with me I could have saved myself $25, even with the $12 corkage fee. Are they having difficulties with the complex math, is that the problem here?

This has got to change, and I’m going to start by putting all the restaurants in Chico on notice (as if my opinion carries any weight):

  1. Get better wine lists and stop trying to sell us big name cult wines that are expensive and uninteresting
  2. Stop charging outrageous, usurious markups for your mediocre wines
  3. Start charging reasonable corkage fees for the backbreaking and highly skilled task of opening a bottle of wine

There’s only one restaurant in town (that I know of) that is doing it right on all counts: Redwood Forest. Not only do they have the best wine list in town, but they charge retail plus $8 for bottles. That eight bucks is their corkage fee, probably the cheapest corkage fee in town.

My recommendation to you: Buy something good that you like, take it to the restaurant and pay the corkage fee. Not only will you pay less for the bottle, but it will be something that you know you will enjoy.

Look, I may not be funny, but I’m no more interested in paying outrageous prices for wine than you are. Next time I go to that restaurant, I’ll be packing a bottle of Two Buck Chuck. Maybe that will get the message across.

Wine of the Week

1998 Domaine Pontifical Chateauneuf du Pape

Chateau-what? A real mouthful, I know, but if you’re used to fruity $15 bottles of California or Australian wine and want to move on to a different level, this wine will do it. Chateauneuf du Pape (sha-toe-noof doo POP) is a wonderful wine from the Rhone Valley of France. Typically a blend of grenache, syrah, and a bunch of other grapes that aren’t cabernet sauvignon or merlot, Chateauneuf du Pape’s are powerful earthy wines. This is one of the best I’ve ever had, especially for the price (Chateauneuf’s typically go for twice what this bottle costs). Complex, earthy, and smooth, with notes of forest floor, mushroom, and soil. Incredibly well balanced fruit and acidity. Stunning with steak or lamb. A real bargain for $30 ($38 if consumed with a meal) at Redwood Forest.

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